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Everything to Know Before Visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

San Francisco Museums
by Suzie Dundas Jun 5, 2023

Sure, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is technically just a museum. But it’s also a cultural icon that has supported the city’s art scene since its inception in 1935. It was the first West Coast museum dedicated solely to modern and contemporary art, and because of that, it’s played a pivotal role in introducing new artistic movements to California and beyond. Over the years, the museum has undergone several transformations, but its mission has remained the same: to make art a meaningful part of public life. It remains one of the most popular things to do in the Bay Area, right up there next to attractions like Umbrella Alley and Fisherman’s Wharf.

One of the things that make SFMOMA unique is its size. It covers 460,000 square feet of space, spread across seven floors and indoor and outdoor galleries. That makes it one of the largest contemporary art museums in the country. The facade of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is also art unto itself, with a very distinctive and modern design. It’s been described as “funky,” “monumental,” and “a granite glacier.”


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But the SFMOMA is more than just a beautiful building. The museum is renowned for its collections, which include works by some of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. In addition to the impressive permanent collections, the SFMOMA always has several rotating exhibits on display, ranging from mixed media to sculpture to video and audio installations.

Here’s everything you need to know about planning a trip to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this year, including how to get there and how to save money on buying San Francisco Museum of Modern Art tickets.

How much does the SFMOMA cost?

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General admission to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is $25 for adults, $22 for seniors, and $19 for young adults (ages 19-24). Admission is free for visitors 18 and under, and for SFMOMA members.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art tickets are also available at discounted rates through a variety of tourist and membership-based programs, all of which are listed on the SF MOMA website. Unfortunately, SF MOMA doesn’t participate in the free museum access program offered for Bank of America cardholders.

What days are free at the SFMOMA?

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) offers free admission to all visitors on the first Thursday of every month. On those days, the museum is open from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM, and visitors can explore the museum’s vast collection of modern and contemporary art free of charge. However, first Thursdays are subject to capacity limits, so there may be longer wait times than usual. And some exhibits may not be included in the free admission offer.

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It’s best to buy San Francisco Museum of Modern Art tickets in advance through the museum website. All tickets are timed entry, and you’ll want to arrive about 15 minutes before your time to start lining up. For visitors under 18, tickets are free with the purchase of any adult ticket(s). Adult tickets are $25, young adults are $19, and anyone over age 65 is $22.

Some exhibits have an extra cost or special ticket. You’ll buy those tickets via the same website, be sure to click which extra San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibition(s) you want to see. Weekends may sell out, but you can usually buy tickets at the window on weekdays. But since there’s no extra cost to buy them online, it’s probably best to do it in advance so you know you’ll be able to get in at your preferred time. Evening events, parties, openings, and events of the like usually have their own separate ticketing.

How long does it take to go through the SFMOMA?

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According to data from SF MOMA, the average length of time visitors spend at the museum is approximately two hours. But if you’re an art fan, or plan on taking a guided tour, you’ll likely want to spend much longer than that. You may want to browse the museums exhibits in advance to help plan how much time you should budget. If you enjoy reading each display placard and don’t want to skip any exhibits, you could easily spend a full day there.

If you’re visiting with kids, you may want to plan your schedule around the various kids programs and activities, rather than around walking through each exhibit.

What should I not miss at SFMOMA?

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What San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibitions you don’t want to miss mostly depends on what you’re most interested in. For some people, the audio-visual displays are some of the coolest works of art, while others love admiring classics from artists like Andy Warhol and Wassily Kandinsky.

But for most visitors, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s rotating special exhibits will be the can’t-miss attractions. These are usually collections that travel around the world to various museums, as well as temporary collections of pieces not usually available on public display. As of May 2023, exhibits include a collection of work from mobile artist Alexander Calder, an exhibit on Latina art from the city’s Mission District in the 1980s, a walk-through musical/video performance called “The Visitors,” and what the SF MOMA calls a “musical adventure” inspired by the novel “Moby Dick” from filmmaker Wu Tsang.

Does SFMOMA have free parking?

The SF MOMA does not have free parking. In fact, parking is rather expensive, at $26 for 10 hours or less. But the bigger problem is that parking for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art can fill up quickly, so you’re better off taking public transportation to reach the museum.

The closest BART station is the Montgomery Station Stop, which is about a six-minute walk to the museum. If you prefer to take the Muni Light Rail (which uses the same Clipper transit card as BART), you’ll get off at the Union Square/Market Street MUNI Metro Station (200 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102), which is .4 miles from the museum entrance. You can also take San Francisco’s famous cable cars to reach the museum, though the walk is slightly longer (roughly 10 minutes from the Powell  & O’Farrell streets station).

What are other things to do near SF MOMA?

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If you have free time in the day after visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, consider seeing some of the other things to do in San Francisco. You can check out other San Francisco museums (including the Cable Car Museum, which is about .4 miles away and completely free). But if you want something besides museums, you could visit Yerba Buena Gardens, a peaceful outdoor area with a festival going on all summer long. It’s a five-minute walk from the SF MOMA.

Also close is Union Square, about .4 miles away. It’s a top shopping area and has plenty of nearby dining, plus excellent people watching. You could also head to Chinatown, which is the oldest predominately Chinese neighborhood anywhere in the US. It’s massive and filled with great restaurants, unique stores and artist galleries, and lots of traditional architecture. Of course, you could always just head to the Ferry Building to snag a delicious Blue Bottle Coffee before walking along the waterfront. It’s San Francisco, so you’ll have no shortage of things to do.

Where to stay in San Francisco

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San Francisco isn’t a huge city, but heavy traffic can make it hard to get around if you have to rely on ride shares. So it’s probably best to try to stay near the SF MOMA if that’s what you’re there to see. You can find lots of San Francisco Airbnbs throughout the city, and if you’re traveling with Fido, you’ll be happy to know many of SF’s hotels are dog-friendly.

Otherwise, the two options below are great picks.

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

W San Francisco

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Practically across the street from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the W San Francisco. It’s a high-end, hip hotel that lives up to the W brand. There’s also a popular farm-to-table restaurants on-site (Trace Restaurant). Rooms start around $249 plus resort fee.

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Harbor Court Hotel

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If you don’t mind staying a little further out, check out the Harbor Court Hotel. It’s on the water and is one of the few remaining hip, elegant hotels in the city that won’t cost an arm and a leg. There’s an on-site sake bar, and it’s only a .8-mile walk to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It’s also close to the Ferry Building and also about .8 miles to the Embarcadero. Rates start around $159 per night, but are usually in the low $200s.

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